Christ Lutheran Church
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Lift High The Cross
Now Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and by way of instruction he asked this disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" They answered: "John the Baptizer. But others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” Then he asked them, "As for you, who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ."
And he gave them strict orders to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that of divine necessity the Son of Man must suffer many things; be found wanting and rejected by the Presbyters and the Chief Priests and the Scribes and be put to death; and after three days rise again," and he said these things openly, upon which Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But turning away, and looking at his disciples he rebuked Peter thusly, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not thinking as God thinks, but as men do." And calling the crowd to join the disciples he said to them: "If anyone wishes to follow after me let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life, will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it …” (Mark 8:27-35)
As we follow the liturgy of our Lord according to St. Mark we find Jesus moving from place to place; but in today’s gospel a very strange place indeed named: Caesarea-Philippi. It is here that he first announces in plain language what his future holds.
Not the victory lap that his disciples expected. Not the whole world finally at peace and all troubles eradicated. That would come later when the Lord would come in his glory accompanied by all the angels of God.
But first he plainly announces to his little flock that he must suffer many things, be rejected by the religious system which he came to fulfill; be put to cruel death on the cross; and rise again on the third day. And, further, that if anyone wanted to be his follower that they, too, must take up the cross and follow him.
But it wasn’t only the content of his teaching that was so implausible, but the place he chose to do it.
Caesarea Philippi was not only far away from Jerusalem and the Temple, but outside the boundaries of Israel itself. It was the headquarters of “sin incorporated”. The place where rank idolatry romanced the corrupt world system.
The city was politically named by King Herod’s brother Philip in honor of Caesar Augustus the world’s most powerful man. Moreover it was here that the Canaanites of old had built a shrine there to their god Baal. It is the place where Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, led God’s people to commit idolatry and adultery against their God.
The temple of the Greek and Roman god Pan was there whose worship included committing bestiality with goats – and the mouth of the cave where the temple was erected was thought to be the Gate to Hades, the entrance to the world of the dead.
Could anything good come from Caesarea Philippi?
Yes, because wherever Jesus is, good is! It was here that the Lord administered his first exam to the disciples which consisted of only two questions.
“Who do men say that I am?”
“Who to you say that I am.”
Peter the star student answered for the twelve: You are the Christ! And with that answer he knew that salvation had come to the world; that all would be well; and the lion would once again lie down with the lamb.
But then Jesus goes on to tell them what it actually means to be the Christ, and to be one of his followers. It meant that their dear Lord and Master would have to suffer many things for humanity’s many transgressions. But as he spelled it out, it was all too much for them to bear; and so Peter pulled the Lord aside to set him straight.
But Jesus was none too pleased!
St. Mark tells us that in response Jesus gave them an object lesson they would not soon forget. He turned his back to Peter and his face to the other disciples and said: Get behind me Satan! For you are not thinking the thoughts of God, but of man!
After this he called the crowd of people who were also there to join his disciples, and he gives them – gives us – an even more shocking revelation, that:
"If anyone wishes to follow after me let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life, will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.”
Imagine the effect these words must have had.
How do you hear them? Are they just too implausible? Do you let them go in one ear and out the other? Or do they shock you? They should because they are hard to hear, harder to believe, and even harder to retain, so that every time we do hear them it is like the first time.
But rather than be mystified by the Lord’s words let them lead us to self-examination; for Jesus endured all these things for us men and for our salvation.
And if we want to live, first we must die.
Die to self, die to pride, die to sinful desire and die to the opinions of the culture, so that we might live to God just as the Lord says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.”
And there is nothing better than that!
Now in our hymn today we sang: “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, till all the world adore his sacred name.”
But how do we do that?
First we lift the cross liturgically. Christ Lutheran Church purposefully, with great faith, much labor and at large expense raised up the Chief Icon of the Holy Christian Religion in her sanctuary – so that the love of God should always shine out upon us.
His death means your life. His rejection by men your reconciliation with God; his many sufferings remission for your many sins.
We Lift High The Cross when we rejoice in our hardships. When we let them serve as our teachers until we: attain mature manhood and grow up to the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Eph. 4:13). This is what St. Paul gets at in today’s epistle when he writes:
Let us also exult in our tribulations with the firm conviction that:
hardship develops perseverance,
and perseverance, resilience
and resilience, anticipation
And [with] anticipation we will never be
humiliated because God's love
overflows in our hearts by the Spirit
But nor is that the end of the matter.
We “Lift High the Cross” with our own bodies as often as we stretch out our arms to receive the good gifts of God with humility, faith and a grateful heart.
And again when we open them up to the world to demonstrate that we are not only believers in Christ, but imitators of him as well, who are willing to give of ourselves to relieve others as Christ did for us. Then we are “lifting high the cross”.
And so in conclusion let us do as the hymn says:
“Come, Christians, Follow
Where Our Saviour Trod
Our King Victorious
Christ, The Son Of God.”